It is the end of a long school year, a year full of changes and challenges. And more than ever I appreciate the special solace of a long and complex book.
I've been reading classics and complex books as an escape--it sounds counter-intuitive, but it works for me.
I finished reading Jane Eyre (I wish I could remember if it was my third or my fourth time around) last week. Charlotte Bronte was a genius. I just adore this book, more than ever. This book will definitely get its own post, but suffice it to say that I am completely enamored of Charlotte Bronte's brain, and her brilliant heroine.
Bronte's story pulled me in at a time when I was struggling every day on the job. Teaching is mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically demanding, and I was exhausted. Reading Jane Eyre filled my spirit and gave me strength in a way that a shorter, less complex and demanding book just couldn't. Something different happens in my brain when I am reading a classic book, one that is demanding, complex, and works on many levels.
Then I picked up Arcadia by Iain Pears on a whim. It had just arrived in our school library, and even though the last thing I have time for is a 509 page book, I found myself totally immersed and loving it. There were a couple of times when my attention flagged, but I stuck with this behemoth, and I'm glad I did. Replete with literary references for the English major/teacher nerd, Arcadia tells several stories at once, and at times the reader is unsure which, if any, or the narratives are "real." This book will definitely not be for everyone, but I found it rewarding. Last semester my creative writing students and I read Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder," a short story about time travel. This led us all down the rabbit hole of the physics of time travel. Would traveling back in time allow someone to change the course of history? Or are there endless possible parallel universes? That little research project came in handy as I read Arcadia, which features a psycho-mathematician, Angela Meerson, who has invented a Narnia-like time/world travel machine which she stores in the basement of an Oxford don. A teenage girl named Rosie ends up stepping through the curtain of Angela's machine and entering a world created by the don, Henry Lytton, who has been plotting a novel in his spare time. This world, Anterwold, is peopled by Lytton's characters. There's also a dystopian world that Angela has escaped from, where a few powerful men control the lives of the vast majority of humans.
Arcadia is not a perfect book, but it was the perfect book for me this week. It distracted me from my crazy week at school, and I'm still thinking about it. I scanned some of the reviews in major papers, and they were a little "meh." But I think for the right reader it is engaging and thoughtful.
As the school year comes to an end I am already looking forward to next year. I'm building my summer reading list based on the classes I'm teaching next year, and giving myself a heavy dose of the classics right at the start. What's next:
Swan's Way by Marcel Proust (a new translation by Lydia Davis)
The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I'm sure I'll read some shorter works in between, but right now long, complex, demanding books are hitting the sweet spot.
What do you look forward to reading as summer approaches?
Anyone else like those long and complex books? What are your personal favorites?